A tragically lost prophet

I have never been a “fan” of Eminem, but I have maintained a healthy respect for what he does. Sounds crazy? Let me explain a bit.

Without a doubt, Eminem changed the face of American Rap music. His style and lyrical insanity pushed the boundaries in a genre that had fallen into trite expressions about women and killing. This isn’t to say others haven’t helped shape the rap game, simply that I don’t think anyone has had the impact Eminem has. I’m not a music expert, so take my opinion for what it is. But to put it in perspective: my 50 year old mother knows who Eminem is. I can’t say the same for any other rapper. And that’s because he impacted more than just rap; Eminem changed the way we listen to pop music in general. His volatile lyrics reflected a struggle that was going on in the consciences of Americans everywhere. This is not that same as saying, “I feel like I know where he’s been.” If anything, I think his success is the opposite; few of us know the kind of rage that he spews in his songs, and as a result, his hatred assuages our guilt. “If he feels that way, maybe I’m not as bad as I think.” That’s a crushing indictment, but I think it’s the right one.

Over the years, I think Eminem sensed this as well (or something akin to it), and he began to transition from a reflection of our culture to a prophet speaking to it. That is a big shift. And I think the damage has been great, both to Mr. Mathers and to the people who absorb his lyrics. It’s hard to pinpoint how this shift happened, but there are some clear markers in his music along the way. “Lose Yourself,” “The Way I Am” and “Sing for the Moment” are just a couple examples. These are not passive songs, merely describing his own situation (like, say “Stan” or “The Real Slim Shady”), but these songs actually try to steer the direction of interaction. In many ways, these are a form of worship music, although I think many would be uncomfortable with the idea that people worship Eminem. Still, I think the argument stands. Music is emotionally charged, and has an effect on its listeners. Some of his albums have more of this than others, but what has always been prophetic about it is the tension Mathers details between his position of “responsibility” and how the fame destroys him.

I would say that the prophetic element of his music came to a head with “Love the Way You Lie.” This is probably the ultimate expression of what I mean when I call Mathers a “modern-day prophet.” Here is a man outright identifying the sins of the culture in which he is a part, and not letting anyone off the hook for it. Why do people hate his music? Well, a number of reasons, but I think the main reason is that he does not describe people as they want to be; he describes people as they are, in all their sin and muck and self-destruction. The problem is this: Eminem does not call people to repentance because he does not understand the problem. He can identify the problem, but he has no clue how to fix it.

This is evident in his newest album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2. It’s an interesting title in my opinion, because it is a regression from the prophetic stance that has characterized his music for so long. This album is a return to basics: it is a passive, descriptive attempt to wrestle with the life Mathers finds himself in. In “Rap God,” he declares how awesome he is, peppering the verses with references to “helping people” with his music, and feeling as if he is superhuman because of the power his music wields. But as with all who revel in power, he lacks authority, and as such this illusion of grandiosity comes tumbling down in songs like “The Monster.” He is still saying he hopes he helps people, but now he is the one crying out for help as well. Songs like this demonstrate the one incontrovertible fact that has dogged Mathers for so long: he is not a savior. He’s known this all along, and reminded people of it frequently (again, see “Stan). Yet somewhere along the way, the lines between prophet and savior became blurred, and Eminem lost his way.

So what do we have? A prophet, who is lost as to what he is supposed to do with his gift, firing off his mouth as fast as he can as if speed will somehow mask the futility of his efforts. Just bear this in mind: if he is indeed a prophet (even a false one), he is a mirror image of the culture he damns. Pray for Mr. Mathers. I think he needs it more than people might think.

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Fruitful

The school I teach at offers a rather rigorous academic program. It is by no means a perfect program, but it definitely pushes the students to think for themselves (as opposed to thinking for a test). Aside from the senior thesis defenses, and the junior apprenticeship projects, I don’t shirk from asking my students to engage with what they’re learning. In my Church History class, for instance, they’ve been assigned a research paper connecting an event from what we’ve studied with a concern in the Church today. One of my students did his paper on styles of worship, comparing Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. Here’s a little excerpt:

…I would like to believe they would have agreed to disagree. I believe that if we are mature in our faith, petty things like style preference in worship should not come between us especially considering we are called “brothers and sisters in Christ.” If there is a superior worship style it is irrelevant because the only thing that matters is the worship itself offered to the One who is superior.

Papers like this make me very proud of my students. Its not an issue of agreement (because I agree with some students, and I disagree with others), but it is about taking the subject matter and understanding that it is more than a text book or a set of notes. The moments where the classroom encounters real life are the moments where I feel fruitful, in the truest sense of the word.

They have so much potential for God to unlock, that it is often times surprising. Whether they know it or not, I expect great things from each of my students this year.

The Sacred Pathway

Intellectuals draw near to God through their minds. – Gary L. Thomas, The Sacred Pathway 2000

A friend sent me a link recently to a very interesting assessment (you can go hereto take it yourself). The concept is a simple one: examine some of the personality traits that God has created you with, and use those to determine if certain forms of personal worship might be more conducive than others.

The form that I received the highest score on was intellectual. While that doesn’t surprise me (I’ve often been accused of over-thinking), I noticed something peculiar. I scored evenly in almost all other categories (18 being my lowest and 24 being my highest).

This is a sunset that I have grown to treasure over that last year. It reminds of the many that I have overlooked.This doesn’t mean I’m holier than anyone, but it leads me to a certain thought: my personal philosophy is encompassing much more than I would have ever anticipated. 10 years ago, mysticism was something I saw as silly. Now, its something that fascinates and convicts me. Charismatic worship used to frustrate me. Now, it touches me and reminds me how glorious it is to praise God. I spent most of life fighting traditions and rituals, only to now crave them in my own day to day existence.

All this means, what exactly? I will probably never be the master of anything. I won’t be a religious crusader, nor a social activist. But hopefully, regardless of my lack of specializing skills, I will have a robust and overflowing relationship with the Lord that will pour into every aspect of my life.

I like the sound of that.

Heavenly Father, I know I have squandered my time fighting and arguing about things I did not understand. And now, You have seen fit to illuminate my soul to those very things in order to rebuke, and change me. I thank you that I am so often wrong, and I praise Your perfecting work that is happening in me everyday. Teach me Your ways, oh Lord. In Jesus’ Precious Name, Amen.

Advent Season, Part IV: …Redemption.

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear Him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped His servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
For He made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.
– Luke 1:46-55 (NLT)

This time of year, it’s easy to get busy. It’s easy to forget why we celebrate. And many of us end up not celebrating at all. Browse the Christian blogs on WordPress or Blogger, and the overwhelming notion is that Christians have forgotten what Christmas is about (here are one or two to make the point).

Pick up a Christmas CD by N’Sync, or Garth Brooks, or Kanye West, and you get the impression that Christmas is about feeling something in particular, although just exactly what is fuzzy.

Of course, when Mary offered her song of praise in Luke (see above), I don’t think she worried about sleigh bells or ballin’ at the mall. The promise of her Son was something amazing to her: it was a fulfillment. But not just any old promise was being kept. Read her poem again. Mercy. Hunger. Humility. These are the things that characterized what Mary envisioned through her Son.

Everything we long for, hope for, & even fight for…it’s all about redemption.


My mom had a sister I never met. She is rarely talked about in our family, and until recently I did not even know how she had died. She was 31. In the midst of her varying medical issues, she developed an infection that couldn’t be contained. In an attempt to help her, her doctors wound up killing her. She had been the subject of electro-shock therapy, among other not so pleasant “remedies” during her life. And yet, at the end, her final words were simple. “Jesus,” she whispered. That story still brings my mom to tears, almost 30 years later. It’s a wound that has never quite healed in my family. My grandparents, my mom and her siblings, they go on living despite this pain they still feel.

This is the reason for Christmas.

There are countless other stories. International ones, too. So many in this world seeking redemption, and the healing that comes with it. I tell this one because, well, it hits closest to home for me. But there are others. Some even better, I’m sure.

These are the reasons for Christmas.

This Christmas, rather than bemoaning the lost Christmas Spirit, or demanding that Christmas be “reclaimed,” I think we would do well to remember God’s redemption. It came upon a midnight clear, and it is still offered to those who are weary or downtrodden or hungry or alone.

We worship a merciful God. Let us never forget it.

Worship and Sex?

Last night, a friend of mine sent me an essay of his. In it, he compares worship to a sexual relationship. There is a right context for enjoyment, and there is a wrong one. He goes on to compare the way many Christians come to worship as an extramarital affair. He writes,

…some Christians seem to have only an emotional relationship with God, based on how they feel about God in general, and largely dependent on the worship band on Sunday mornings. You see a faith that is dependent on what we call worship music and moving inspirational speeches is a faith that becomes compartmentalized into one kind of person during a worship set, and a completely different person the rest of the time. In some sense (if you will allow me) these people metaphorically have “sex” with God during “worship” but have no relationship with Him independent of their encounter with Him on Sunday, and maybe sometime mid-week if they can make time for that…

If we aren’t engaged in the right relationship with God, we’re turning worship into something sensual and selfish. Right? Were I to only seek sex from my wife, I would be thought of as a villain who abuses my wife’s body. That assessment wouldn’t be too far from accurate either. Paul was pretty clear how husbands and wives should interact. Yet we don’t often connect our worship of God (a time when we seek to enter into a right relationship with our Lord) with much else. We treat worship like a one night stand, and this has become the standard.

I think my friend is on to something, but neither of us have concentrated on it enough to formulate something more substantial.

Of course, who is to say that I’m on the right path here? There is a whole host of evidence from the past 100 years or so that worship is being carried out exactly as it should be. New churches don’t offer new ways to worship, they simply affirm the old ways in a “contemporary” manner. And if these recent traditions argue against what I’m saying, then perhaps I’m wrong. But for now, my conscience tells me something is violently wrong with the way we Christians approach worship. Something must be done. So here I stand, seeking and hoping for more.